Escalante Middle School eighth graders stirred bubbling peach jam and pear honey in an agriculture class Friday as State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, observed and jumped in to help.
McLachlan visited the class to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a group that lobbies for policy changes to benefit agriculture and supports youths interested in agriculture by funding groups such as FFA and 4-H.
While agriculture likely has a bright future in Colorado, the industry faces major challenges, including the average age of farmers, which is about 60, McLachlan said.
“I want to encourage that next generation to take over,” she said.
Escalante’s agriculture classes have an enrollment of 105 seventh and eighth graders who learn to grow food outside and in a greenhouse and how to cook and preserve food, said teacher Lu Boren. Boren’s classes are partially funded by the state to help encourage interest in agriculture.
Teaching students to preserve their own food can help create a market for locally grown produce and ensure that canning, once a common skill, is passed along, she said.
“I want them to know you take that good, fresh local produce and you preserve it for the winter. ... Nobody is teaching them this anymore,” Boren said.
Carolena Caplin, 14, and Laina Martinez, 14, both said canning was easier than they expected, especially after Boren talked with her students about food safety.
“She kind of scared us when she said you can die from botulism,” Carolena said. Botulism is food poisoning that can occur if jars and lids are not properly sterilized and bacteria is allowed to flourish.
But since the initial food-safety talk, the two have eaten plenty of their own fresh jam.
“We really love cooking and eating,” Laina said.